Saturday, October 2, 2010

High Heels, Routines, and a Sudden Realization

As some of you probably know, I am a creature of routine. Being "spontaneous" elicits the same fear that "free falling off a cliff" elicits in others. I like to have patterns of living - like following a rhyme scheme in a poem, they allow to be free within a harness.

So my morning routine on Mondays through Fridays goes something like this: set an alarm for 6:30am. Sleep through it. Wake up at 7:20am, throw on my dress clothes (that have, admittedly, been laid out the night before...), throw some eyeshadow and bronzer at my face (sometimes I miss and hit the mirror), throw my cell phone, planner and wallet into my bag, grab a pair of high heels from my closet, stick my feet into flipflops and run helter-skelter down the four flights of stairs, out the door and down to the end of the block where the D6 bus picks me up. Get on the bus (breathing a bit heavily for 7:42am - I mean, I ran down the STAIRS, not the Washington Monument and back), either stand awkwardly in front of someone while holding onto the handrail above my head, or sink into a seat and ride the bus to 16th St. and K St. I then get off the bus, cross the street, go into Starbucks, and get in line.

Now here is where my spontaneity really kicks in. I sometimes order a tall skinny vanilla latte. I sometimes order a tall skim (they don't say non-fat here... they say skim... why do you think that is?) no water chai. I sometimes venture WAY out of my comfort zone and order a tall skim toffee nut mocha or a tall skim pumpkin spice latte (it is fall, after all). And the other day, I heard myself order a tall skinny cinnamon dolce latte and thought, "Oh my stars, I have become adventurous!" (again, a bit exaggerated).

So when I ordered my chai on Friday morning, I was happily in my routine of Starbucks spontaneity, happily ready to sit down and write some postcards and journal before going to my office building for the 9am workday. But there was no squishy leather chair available. There was no non-squishy uncomfortably wooden chair available. There were no seats anywhere in the Starbucks and the seating outside was still dripping with rain from Thursday night. So, I decided to just go to the cafe area in my office building and write there. As I walked out of the Starbucks I saw a homeless man sitting on the concrete edge of a little patch of shrubbery next to Starbucks. He looked vacant - his eyes like empty windows, his mouth a thin, wavering line with a few cuts and scratches around the edges. He looked dusty, his hair was gray. I stood there, my coral pink sweater flapping a little in the breeze. I looked down at my shoes - their perfectly pointed toes, shiny black leather, the little heel that enables me to stand at 5'7" - and at the drink in my hand. The sudden urge to give the drink to him overwhelmed me. It was like an invisible hand was pulling it out of my hand and offering it to him. I clung to it, my routine pounding relentlessly in my head. I had journaling to do! It was 8:33, and I needed my quiet time before work! I didn't just give drinks to strangers!

I crossed the street, my high heels pounding the pavement, my pencil skirt twisting around my waist as my big bag pulled against it. I looked back - he still sat there, in his routine, in his daily pattern. How different ours were. How selfish mine was! I stood on the corner of K St and 16th St and thought, "Did I just walk away from Jesus?" We are told in Scripture that Jesus recognizes us by how we treat the least of these - how we clothe and feed and care for them. And as my legs twitched from the cramp developing in my calf muscles, and the warmth of my chai seeped into my fingers, I realized I had just walked away from the living God.

The next few moments are blurry. I walked around the corner and into a deli market. I bought a large coffee and stuffed some sweetener and creamer into my already overcrowded bag. I bought a Clif bar. I walked back to the same corner, and I walked up to the homeless man. I smiled nervously, and he looked back at me the same blank stare. I offered him the coffee. I offered him the Clif bar. He took the coffee, refused the granola bar, and said a quiet, "Thanks" and took a sip. He didn't look at me, and when I said goodbye he didn't respond.

As I ran towards the Farragut West metro station at 12:45 that afternoon, after a morning of research and meetings and reading the news, my "getting back into shape after many days of not exercising" calf muscles screeching in protest at the blistering pace I had set for myself, I realized that I should not expect the homeless man to say thank you, or to acknowledge my goodbye, or even engage me in conversation. My only expectation should be that I do not walk away next time I have the urge to hand over my drink. I should hand it over, whether or not it is a part of my idolized routine. I should hand it over because that man, in his dusty gray pants and scuffed shoes is the image of God. When I meet him, and look in his eyes, I am meeting Jesus.

Readers, our routines are important. They provide structure, they provide space, they provide comfort. But our routines also blind us to the world. They keep our eyes fixed on ourselves and on the narrow path we've constructed. We get easily irritated when they are interrupted. But my hope for us all, for those who love routine and those who crave spontaneity, is that we allow ourselves to be interrupted by the real, pressing needs of others. That we allow our routines to be radically interrupted, so that we might see the full scope of the world in which we live.

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25.37 - 40)

Love, Hilary

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